Neutral territory: what to do when your landlord loves magnolia

Imagine you’re viewing a property you’re thinking of renting. The road’s quiet, the flat has all the space you need, the white goods are new and there’s a bit of garden with a shed. It’s just what you wanted, and although the décor is a bit bland, when you’ve moved your bits and bobs in it will soon feel like home. Maybe you could brighten up the bedroom, a warmer colour on the walls would be good, and some shelves in that alcove would be perfect for your books. You could hang all those prints in the hallway. They’d look great there, and you could …

Hang on a minute. What does the tenancy say?

Sorry to bring you back down to earth, but most tenancies won’t allow you to start painting walls, putting shelves up or hammering picture hooks into the plaster. There’s a reason the landlord has opted for that safe colour scheme: cream walls, a neutral carpet. He or she is trying to appeal to most people. Not to you.

If you hate magnolia and want to paint the rooms in Flaming Orange or Tuscan Turquoise, you’ll have to ask for permission. And that permission might well be refused because when your tenancy ends, your landlord will want a property that’s going to appeal to most people – neutral not personalised to your tastes.

We know that can feel a bit restrictive – after all, it’s going to be your home and it’s natural to want to add your touch, especially if you’re planning to be there for some time. But the duration of tenancies is increasing, and as more and more people are renting long term, some landlords are changing their views on what you are allowed to do.

Often, if you ask for permission to make reasonable changes, come to a clear agreement on what you’re planning to alter and what you will do at the end of the tenancy, you might find the landlord will give you some leeway. Structural changes will still be off-limits but, say, decorating a room as a nursery or installing blinds could be possibilities.

If you get permission, make sure the details are clear and if you’re planning a DIY job, make sure you’re competent. Splashes of paint and wonky wallpaper might not bother you, but there’s a cost to putting decorating mistakes right, and you could end up paying that cost when part of your deposit is withheld.

If you don’t get permission to make changes from the landlord, there are still a lot of things you can do to make a place feel like a home. Take inspiration from some interior design books and magazines. Get creative with temporary wallpaper, use soft furnishings for texture, brighten up the beige with a cheerful rug or runner. If there’s a picture rail, don’t drill holes, use it. Change a lightbulb and the mood of a room can change. Create free-standing shelving with reclaimed bricks and scaffold boards. Use your imagination to good effect.

Whether your landlord grants permission could depend on some things that are outside your control. If they’ve just said goodbye to a tenant who has caused damage, for example, they could be more cautious. If they expect you to be moving on soon, likewise. They don’t want a void period while they undo your colour scheme. Often the decision depends upon the relationship you have, and sometimes it can take a few months for the landlord to learn that you are responsible and that you’ll honour your agreements. Despite the restrictions on decorating, landlords do want you to be happy in your home. Happy tenants are good tenants and are worth keeping. A restriction when you first sign a tenancy agreement could be well be revised a couple of years down the line.


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